Italian food was created by grandmothers, not chefs. Just because it is simple doesn't mean that it is bland. Good basic red sauce is a staple in all Italian homes. Italian cooks choose fresh and high quality ingredients and don't rely on difficult cooking techniques. Pasta is often the first meal that new cooks learn.
Cheese and wine are a major part of the cuisine. Food and wine grown in the same region automatically complement each other. One (of many) reasons that I've never had a bad glass of wine in Italy is because of this complement. The house red is probably locally made with the fresh ingredients bought at the local outdoor market.
Italy is a large country and stretches from near the Swiss alps to the toe which was influenced by the many people sailing to and from other Mediterranean countries. Northern Italy is known for polenta (corn meal) and risotto (creamy rice). The Ligurian area uses basil (found in pesto), nuts and olive oil. Bolognese sauce from Bologna. Southern Italy has an abundance of olive il garlic, artichokes, oranges, eggplants and zucchini.
Italian cooks can find an almost infinite number of pasta shapes. Using the word "pasta" can signify an entire dish. Each family can have their own meaning for "lets have pasta/spaghetti for dinner". Spaghetti to a five year old may mean macaroni with a little red (only creamy - no lumps of vegetables) with lots of parmesan cheese on top.
Italian food also includes gnocchi (made with potatoes) and noodles (like spätzle) which are sometimes considered pasta.
Pasta may be dried or freash. Dried pasta made without eggs can be stored for up to two years, but, fresh pasta will keep for a couple of days in the refrigerator. The Pasta industry in Italy is regulated and most types can only be made from durum wheat flour or durum wheat semolina. Outside of Italy, the skies the limit: spinach pasta, gluten free pasta, whole wheat pasta. Choose whole wheat pasta since it has health benefits over pasta made from refined flour.
Meal time in Italy can last for hours and is seen as a time to spend with family and friends. Breakfast is not one of these hour long meals. Tradional breakfasts are continental with coffee with milk and bread/rolls, butter and jam. Biscotti is often dunked into coffee latte.
When most Italian workers had long 2 hour lunches at home, it was the most important meal of the day. These hearty midday meals are now reserved for the weekends.
Since most Italians don't eat dinner until 8 or 9 pm, they often have a snack in the late afternoon. Fruit, yogurt, gelato, cookies or discuits are eaten between 3 and 5 pm. This late dinner is similiar to lunch, but not as heavy.
Wherever Italians have immigrated, they brought their cuisine with them. Pizza, pasta, red sauce- these words spell Italian food. Pasta has been part of Italian life for centuries; but tomatoes were brought to Europe from the New World.
Since tomatoes are a member of the nightshade family, most Europeans thought they were poisonous. It was 1839 when pasta met tomatoes!
Italians eat over sixty pounds of pasta per person, per year! And, it seems strange, but they can't produce enough pasta for the hungry Italian appitites. Italy actually imports most of the wheat used to make pasta. There are two basic kinds of pasta.
There are roughly 350 different shapes and varieties of dried pasta in Italy. Dried pasta, especially the more complex shapes are designed for grabbing and holding onto sauces. The ridges in ziti holds the sauce well.
If you have fresh pasta, you won't ever want to go back to dried- out of the box. The experts say that fresh pastas are used differently than dried. You probably can't make a penne pasta (excruded), but the fettuchini is somewhat easy. Fresh pasta is served with cream sauces or simply butter and spcies or pesto.
There are some tricks to cooking great pasta. Cook it al-dente (more toothy than mushy) and make sure to have enough water in the pot. Trying to cook pasta in too little water is a common error that beginning cooks make.
Long noodles -angel hair
Ribbon-cut noodles - lasagna
Short-cut extruded pasta -penne
Decorative shapes - bowtie
Minute pasta - orzo
Stuffed pasta - tortelloni
Irregular shapes - gnocchi
There are endless possibilities in combining pasta and sauce. Remember, simple pasta works best with simple sauces while complex shaped pastas are ideal for thicker sauces. Italian food has a long and rich history. Use fresh ingredients, whole wheat, low fat cheese, and skip the sausages to make yummy vegetarian Italian food.
Share your best vegetarian recipes. Recipes can be a simple side dish or a more complex main course. Include a picture!
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